Creative sues Apple for patent infringement

In the wake of Rambus’ latest victory in a round of patent infringement lawsuits against major memory
industry players, Creative has decided to bring the patent infringement game to the music player
industry. The company has filed patent complaints and an infringement
lawsuit against Apple for alleged breaching US Patent 6,928,433,
otherwise known as the “Zen Patent,” after Creative’s music player. The patent covers
hierarchical sorting of music in portable music players, and its summary
reads:

A method, performed by software executing on the processor of a portable
music playback device, that automatically files tracks according to
hierarchical structure of categories to organize tracks in a logical
order. A user interface is utilized to change the hierarchy, view track
names, and select tracks for playback or other operations.

This patent was only issued to Creative on August 9, 2005, but it was
filed on January 5, 2001, several months before the release of Apple’s
first music player. Creative says the iPod represents a
“willful infringement of the Zen patent,” and the company is seeking a
cease and desist order that would prohibit the sale of iPods in the
United States. An all-out iPod ban may not happen, but Creative could
instead obtain a juicy settlement and potential licensing fees, which
could help its recent financial woes. Two weeks ago, Creative announced
record
losses
of $114.3 million for the third fiscal quarter after a 32%
drop in sales from the same time period last year.

Comments closed
    • ludi
    • 14 years ago

    The patent summary doesn’t really explain WHAT is patented. There is exactly one independent claim in this filing — Claim 1 — and any successful infringement claim must derive from it. The key phrase is:

    “1. A method of selecting at least one track from a plurality of tracks stored in a computer-readable medium of y[

    • kfc
    • 14 years ago

    Creative can go suck a cock. I want my Aureal back!

    I hope that Apple retaliates by suing Creative into the stone age!

    • 5150
    • 14 years ago

    Why didn’t I become a lawyer in this day and age?

    Oh yeah, because I like to sleep at night, albeit not on a pile of money.

      • albundy
      • 14 years ago

      maybe because you are honest and truthfull. all lawyers should be put in a giant meatgrinder.

    • Chryx
    • 14 years ago

    Creative are quite possibly angling to get bought out here.

      • SGWB
      • 14 years ago

      I bet Creative will try to settle out of court for a cross-licensing deal involving FairPlay. Creative music players would sell better if they were compatible with the iTunes Music Store. If this is indeed what Creative is planning, I don’t think Apple will bite.

        • Thresher
        • 14 years ago

        This is their only possible angle. They have nothing that Apple could want. They don’t need the sound card business. Roland and Edirol make fine Mac products, as do other companies. The rest of their business, quite frankly, is junk. Anything of quality that they have bought, like Cambridge Soundworks, they’ve turned into junk.

        If they aren’t truly looking for licensing of what they assume to be their IP, then their ownly real play on this would be as a gambit to license Fair Play, and Apple just isn’t going to give up the crown jewels to the iTunes Music Store.

    • indeego
    • 14 years ago

    These suits against very public companies can only bring about eventual patent reform. while it seems obvious patent reform should have happened a decade or so ago when software patents came to fruition, there you go.

    The whole thing regarding “patenting ideas/software” seems silly. Patent things, physical objectsg{<.<}g

    • Thresher
    • 14 years ago

    The are essentially trying to claim patent on a database search/front end.

    Good luck with that.

      • Chrispy_
      • 14 years ago

      Has anyone tried to patent “round” wheels yet?

    • FireGryphon
    • 14 years ago

    Didn’t Creative sue id Software for using graphics algorithms to program audio? So can’t they also claim that ANY use of heirarchical sorting is covered under their patent whether on a portable music player or, say, an address book with your friends’ names alphebatized in it?

    I keep thinking about this, and I can’t understand how one can patent a method of sorting by category. Hasn’t this process been used since time immemorial? The only difference is that Creative patented it on a portable music player, but shouldn’t it then be possible to patent something that allows you to categorize things in, say, a pocket sized address book?

    • liquidsquid
    • 14 years ago

    Sad patentent. I have a feeling the patent will be reversed when they come out of this, and then what will Creative have? Richer lawyers, poorer workers. What else is new.

    -LS

    • wierdo
    • 14 years ago

    Talk about another BS Patent, brought to you thanks to another episode of the usual patent office incompetence.

    • espetado
    • 14 years ago

    Rediculous is not the word here. Greed is. Also mismanagement applies, in fact, every word after mismanagement applies.

    So very sad. Financial whoes? Oh ok, let’s sue somebody. And in what kind of way? After reading the summary I thought Creative had patented ‘digital sorting by alphabet’. Morons.

    • blastdoor
    • 14 years ago

    Creative should clearly lose this. On the other hand, it’s not like Apple is exactly pure on this front either. When the Mac was losing marketshare back in the early 90s, Apple’s approach was to sue MS for copying the “look and feel” of the Mac with Windows. Apple would clearly have been a lot better off spending their time developing a coherent operating strategy back then rather than chasing after MS in court.

    Generally speaking, companies that try to litigate rather than innovate are doomed. So I hope this is the end of Creative, but I can’t say that I exactly feel sorry for Apple.

      • Hattig
      • 14 years ago

      Of course if Creative try and turn the court case into a Look and Feel court case, then Apple will win simply because you can’t patent that, as their earlier loss showed.

      So the only issue is that Creative patented the ability to have a database of music, and to search that database by artist, album, song, or other ways, and to present it in columns based upon the search order. Which is so blatantly obvious and standard practice it should be thrown out on the first day.

      • wierdo
      • 14 years ago

      the “end” of creative? heh, lets be realistic here, they’ll be back in court the next day, business as usual.

      • Chryx
      • 14 years ago

      g{

        • Thresher
        • 14 years ago

        I thought Lotus was the first to try a look and feel lawsuit.

    • FireGryphon
    • 14 years ago

    First they patent a publically known method and sue id Software, now they patent a pubically known method and sue Apple. Did I miss anything here?

    Creative’s trouble is that they stifle competition so much that they stagnate an industry, like sound cards, and marginalize its importance to PC owners. Then PC owners don’t buy their cards. A 32% drop in sales is significant. Creative is beginning to reap what it has sown these last few years.

    • Hattig
    • 14 years ago

    As far as I am concerned, the meta-data tags that are included with MP3 files and other music types were put there for exactly this type of use.

    From other discussions:
    1) The in-car EMPEG MP3 player from 1998 had a similar system.
    2) The column-style interface was used by Xerox in the 70’s, Apple in the 80s (on the Lisa), NeXT in the 90s, and Apple again in Mac OS X.
    3) Anyone who’s done their first music database does exactly this type of searching

    and there was more than just that.

    The concept is obvious, there’s prior art a-plenty, and the damn patent shows a tree-view Win-95 style, not an iPod-like interface anyway.

    • Philldoe
    • 14 years ago

    oh boy, I love m Zen micro but creative is going a bit too far. they need to think for a bit…If they want to get back in the game they need to
    -Fix driver issues
    -Stop selling bad X-fi cards
    -improve compatability
    -lower prices

    If they think they can come back this way…There is no hope for em. This is going to hurt Creative. I’m going to miss being able to buy a Creative MP3/Video player.

    • Jigar
    • 14 years ago

    I some times like Creative for playing kid games

      • wierdo
      • 14 years ago

      hmm, I guess creative could be described as the kid that’s trying to set fire to the neighbourhood then 😛

    • FubbHead
    • 14 years ago

    This is getting redicilous, these kind of patents are absurd. Just read the summary… Come on?!?

    • paulWTAMU
    • 14 years ago

    I know it’s not about the patent, but what happened? I thought Creative was sort of a giant in the industry; not perhaps in MP3 players, but in soundcards and the like. How’d the drop in sales occur? Sales of PC’s aren’t slowing down significantly, at least there haven’t been any stories about it on TR or Ars.

      • sluggo
      • 14 years ago

      Creative is only the master of the aftermarket. They used to claim that they would be interested in more OEM deals, but when I talked to them about buying 100k chips/quarter their prices were … uncompetitive.

      You still won’t find them on the motherboard in the major OEM machines. They’re not really interested in low-margin business. My guess is that most people feel (rightly so) that motherboard sound is good enough for what they’re doing. My other guess is that less than 2-3% of PC’s sold get an audio card of some kind added later.

      My hope is that Apple’s legal team, fresh off a few wins, will dig in and see what sort of patience Creative has. Let ’em twist for a few years, let them see how it feels for a change. Apple will eventually pay them some money to go away. They can afford it right now, and Creative knows it.

      For Creative’s part, I hope they continue to piss the money away and eventually run out of veins to tap. When they’re gone we may finally see some new players in PC audio.

        • paulWTAMU
        • 14 years ago

        Holy crap, 100K/quarter? Who do you buy for? That’s a metric ton of chips! Although I guess that would explain why most OEM’s don’t seem to have creative sound cards execpt as pricey add ons.
        And even given that, 32 percent drop in less than a year is massive. I’d expect heads rolled?

        And I *like* my Creative 20 gig mp3 player, personally, but have been less than enthused by thier soundcards, at least at the 20-30 dollar level I deal with.

      • WebHobbit
      • 14 years ago

      I think their drop is for two reasons:

      1) backlash from pissed off gamer geeks

      & mainly…

      2) The dramatic quality increase in mobo onboard sound over the last few years. I bought creative sound cards for years & years until I finally realized the mobos I was using had GREAT sound onboard. Now by great I mean just perfect for the Klipsch 3 piece PC speakers (THX) that I’m running. And lets face it the vast majority of PCs out there have much crappier speakers than that hooked up! My Intel HD audio on my Intel mobo is just fine. No more soundcards for me (or any of my builds unless a customer really insists on one).

        • Philldoe
        • 14 years ago

        I agree here. I was going to spend big $$ on an X-fi for my all out build. but I decided not to go for it. I have a very high quality sound system hooked up to my comp and the onboard sound is great.

        • Taddeusz
        • 14 years ago

        I bought a SB Live 24-bit a few months back and find that the sound from it is much better than the onboard crabby audio. Granted, audio is a very subjective topic. What sounds good to one person can sound like crap to another. I don’t have golden ears by any stretch of the imagination. My speakers aren’t exactly top of the line either, but decent. A fairly old set of Labtec speakers circa 1996. Labtec really doesn’t make speakers like that any more. No sub but these things put out some pretty good bass for what they are.

          • totoro
          • 14 years ago

          Are they the Pulse-424’s?
          I love mine! More bass than any one has a right to expect and clean high/midrange for < 50 bucks.
          Too bad they were bought out.

      • Chrispy_
      • 14 years ago

      The industry giants are Realtec and C-Media. All the creative products I’ve ever owned have been reliable but disappointing – in that EAX has never really sounded any good and the drivers have always been pretty rubbish.

      You’d think that a company which practically invented the soundcard could have worked out how to write a simple, bloat-free driver after 12 years.

    • YeuEmMaiMai
    • 14 years ago

    Creative is really gonna look bad on this one. It appears that they are sueing to get much needed cash……..

    • crose
    • 14 years ago

    Ah, they are pulling the old “we’re lame at what we are doing so we sue others who have money with a lame-ass patent given to us by the Lhamas at the US patent office”.

    Hope they win. Apple has to stop copying other people’s work and call it innovation.

      • Usacomp2k3
      • 14 years ago

      While I agree with the last sentence there, I don’t know that this is the opportunity that will stop that.

        • Corrado
        • 14 years ago

        Everyone copies everyone in every business. No one said the ipod heiarchial search was innovative… the use of a scroll wheel/touch wheel IS though. Everyone wants to hate on the people on top.

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